Analysis and Interpretation of Freshwater Fisheries Data

1: Science and Statistics in Fisheries Research

Michael L. Brown and Christopher S. Guy


Fisheries science is considered to be a relatively young profession in North America, with its origins in the late 1800s (Nielsen 1999). Considerably younger are many of the analytical tools currently used by fisheries scientists to develop interpretations of data during the decision-making process. Accordingly, the use of statistics in fisheries science has paralleled the development of statistical theory, approaches, and computing tools that facilitate both simple and complex analyses. Efron (1998) noted that 1925 was “the year that statistical theory became of age, the year statistics went from an ad hoc collection of ingenious techniques to a coherent discipline.” Thus, in a way, fisheries and statistical sciences are of a similar vintage.

In the recent past, most freshwater fisheries management activities have been centered on controlling processes and population dynamics associated with single species, with the goal of maximizing numbers and sizes available to anglers. Mathematical treatments of inland fisheries data have followed that trend. However, the need to accommodate research and management at the ecosystem level has recently promoted the collection of diverse community and habitat data to address questions about processes and interconnectedness (Krueger and Decker 1999). The growing body of study designs and statistical analyses often causes some consternation within the profession; however, we are responsible for utilizing the most appropriate data management and statistical tools to formulate and assess research and management activities. Thus, by necessity, fisheries scientists must become more knowledgeable about the increasingly diverse array of statistical and data management tools and potential applications. This book, as well as several other texts, provides acceptable approaches to the analysis of common fish and fisheries data (Table 1.1).